First among Sixth Men

The Kickoff

March 20, 2007|By BILL ORDINE

Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese's decision to not start star point guard Kristi Toliver has become an intriguing subplot in the Terps' defense of their national title. With Toliver coming off the bench, Maryland rolled over Harvard, 89-65, Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Frese plans to use Toliver the same way tonight against Mississippi. With that in mind, we look at six players who excelled off the bench:

Frank Ramsey

Boston Celtics, 1954-1964

Considered the original sixth man, a concept Celtics coach Red Auerbach popularized. Ramsey, a Hall of Famer, played with - and behind - seven other Hall of Famers, so it's easy to see why cracking the starting five was a little tough up there at the Gah-den.

John Havlicek

Boston Celtics, 1962-1978

If Celtics predecessor Ramsey is the prototype for the sixth man, then Havlicek is the archetype. Consider: While being regarded the greatest sixth man in NBA history, Havlicek is still the Celtics' all-time leading scorer with 26,395 points. Plus he had one of the great all-time nicknames, "Hondo," from a John Wayne western.

Bobby Jones

Denver Nuggets/Philadelphia 76ers, 1974-1986

First winner of the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award for the Sixers' fo'-fo'-fo' 1982-83 title team (actually, there was one playoff loss). This year, the Sixers have another Bobby Jones, but he couldn't win the Ninth Man Award.

Kevin McHale

Boston Celtics, 1980-1993

I know, this thing with the Celtics is getting tiresome. McHale played nine of his 13 seasons primarily as an off-the-bench guy but still averaged nearly 18 points - and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Ricky Pierce

Eight teams, 1982-1998

Pierce put in 16 seasons in the NBA but amazingly was a full-time starter for just two of them. As a reserve, he averaged nearly 15 points and was the league's Sixth Man of the Year twice, both times with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Vinnie Johnson

Three teams, mostly Detroit Pistons, 1979-1992

The nickname said it all. "Microwave" was instant offense for the great Pistons teams, subbing for Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Johnson never won the Sixth Man award, but the Celtics' Danny Ainge gave him a bit of immortality when he said, "If that guy in Chicago is `The Refrigerator,' then Vinnie Johnson is `The Microwave.' He sure heated up in a hurry."

Honorable mention off-the-bench performers, non-basketball category

Earl Morrall for John Unitas and again for Bob Griese in getting the Baltimore Colts (1968) and Miami Dolphins (1972) to Super Bowls

Manny Mota. A zillion teams over 20 years. Sweet-swingin' Manny was once the all-time major league leader in pinch hits, 150 (now second), with a .297 lifetime pinch-hit batting average. He was immortalized in the movie, Airplane: "Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon ... Manny Mota ... Mota ... Mota ... "

Theodore Roosevelt, colorful progressive, for assassinated William McKinley (shot in Buffalo, N.Y., for crying out loud) as president of the United States.

Harry Morgan for McLean Stevenson on M*A*S*H.

Barbara Bel Geddes for Donna Reed as Miss Ellie on Dallas after Donna had filled in for one season for Barbara.

Curly for Shemp and then Shemp for Curly as a Stooge.

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